Volvo Car Group's groundbreaking project 'Drive Me' - featuring 100 self-driving Volvos on public roads in everyday driving conditions - is moving forward rapidly. The first test cars are already rolling around the Swedish city of Gothenburg and the sophisticated Autopilot technology is performing well.
"The test cars are now able to handle lane following, speed adaption and merging traffic all by themselves. This is an important step towards our aim that the final 'Drive Me' cars will be able to drive the whole test route in highly autonomous mode. The technology, which will be called Autopilot, enables the driver to hand over the driving to the vehicle, which takes care of all driving functions," says Erik Coelingh, Technical Specialist at Volvo Car Group.
What makes the 'Drive Me' project unique is that it involves all the key players: legislators, transport authorities, a major city, a vehicle manufacturer and real customers. The customers will drive the 100 cars in everyday driving conditions on approximately 50 kilometres of selected roads in and around Gothenburg. These roads are typical commuter arteries, including motorway conditions and frequent queues.
"That Volvo Cars' hometown Gothenburg becomes the world's first arena for self-driving cars in everyday driving conditions demonstrates both our technological leadership and Sweden's dedication to pioneering the integration of self-driving vehicles," says Erik Coelingh.
'Drive Me - Self-driving cars for sustainable mobility' is a joint initiative between Volvo Car Group, the Swedish Transport Administration, the Swedish Transport Agency, Lindholmen Science Park and the City of Gothenburg. The Swedish Government is endorsing the project.
"This public pilot will provide us with avaluable insight into the societal benefits of making autonomous vehicles a natural part of the traffic environment. Our smart vehicles are a key part of the solution, but a broad societal approach is vital to offer sustainable personal mobility in the future. This unique cross-functional co-operation is the key to a successful implementation of self-driving vehicles," says Erik Coelingh.
Volvo Cars conducts research into driver sensors in order to create cars that get to know their drivers
Through systems that can recognise and distinguish whether a driver is tired or inattentive, the car of the future can become even safer and eventually autonomous. Examples of this include technology that detects closed eyes or what the driver is looking at.
"This will enable drivers to rely more on their car, and know that it will help them when needed," explains Per Landfors, engineer at Volvo Cars and project leader for driver support functions.
By placing a sensor on the dashboard to monitor aspects such as in which direction the driver is looking, how open their eyes are, as well as their head position and angle, it is possible to develop precise safety systems that detect the driver's state and are able to adjust the car accordingly. This also means that the car will ensure that it does not stray out of the lane or get too close to the car in front when the driver is not paying attention, as well as being able to wake a driver who is falling asleep.
"Since the car is able to detect if a driver is not paying attention, safety systems can be adapted more effectively. For example, the car's support systems can be activated later on if the driver is focused, and earlier if the driver's attention is directed elsewhere," Per Landfors explains.
Some of the current systems that can be included are Lane Keeping Aid, Collision warning with full auto brake and Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist.
The technology is based on a sensor mounted on the dashboard in front of the driver. Small LEDs illuminate the driver with infrared light, which is then monitored by the sensor. Infrared light is just outside the wavelengths that the human eye can see, which means that the person behind the wheel doesn't notice it at all.
Driver sensors are also opening up other possibilities. By monitoring eye movements, the car would be able to adjust both interior and exterior lighting to follow the direction in which the driver is looking. The car would also be able to adjust seat settings, for instance, simply by recognising the person sitting behind the wheel.
"This could be done by the sensor measuring between different points on the face to identify the driver, for example. At the same time, however, it is essential to remember than the car doesn't save any pictures and nor does it have a driver surveillance function," Per Landfors clarifies.
The technology is already installed in test vehicles. Volvo Cars is also conducting research together with partners including Chalmers University of Technology and Volvo AB to identify effective methods for detecting tiredness and inattention.
The analysis of the driver's state, known as Driver State Estimation, in which driver sensors play an important role, is a field that may be key to self-driving cars in the future. The car will need to be able to determine for itself whether the driver is capable of taking control when the conditions for driving autonomously are no longer present. A driver sensor could be of assistance in this.
This technology is one of the many initiatives bringing Volvo Cars closer to its goal for 2020 - that no one shall be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo.